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Jackie Chan's Project A 2

According to Jackie Chan's autobiography I Am Jackie Chan: My Life in Action, he directed and starred in 1987's Project A 2 to squeeze a little more use out of the fabulous turn-of-the-century sets built for Miracles, which had just fizzled at the Asian box office. And while Chan declares Miracles his favorite directorial effort, he's also mildly dismissive of PA2 — essentially writing it off as makework, save for one extraordinary sequence in which five different groups of people are all hiding in the same apartment. But Chan is selling his "lesser" movie short: Project A 2 is one of the action star's very best, whether he knows it or not. Set in turn-of-the-century Hong Kong, the movie takes Chan's Project A character, the straight-arrow naval hero Dragon Ma, and drops him into a screwball mix of corrupt cops, vice lords, freedom fighters, Imperial agents, and vengeful pirates. It's all terribly complicated, and granted, the film lacks that single neck-snapping stunt sequence that Chan obsessives usually rally behind (such as Project A's Harold Lloyd clock-tower homage that ended in a legendary four-story fall). But there's a worthwhile trade-off: Instead of blowing his cinematic wad on a single sequence that looks like it killed 40 stuntmen, the cinematographer, and possibly a couple of the crafts-service guys, Chan packs Project A 2 with smaller fights and chases that are seamlessly integrated with the story. In other words, the movie works better as an overall film than most of Chan's established "classics" — and it even manages to get in a few mild digs at mainland Chinese politics for good measure. Not that the action's somehow paltry, mind you: The story builds to a relentless, 20-minute chase that travels from rooftop to aviary to multi-story produce market, with a Buster Keaton falling-house reference thrown in for good measure. And there's a masterful, hilarious, painful-looking bit where Dragon Ma, handcuffed to his arch-nemesis, is chased by hatchet-wielding pirates. (Chan even works the old pull-the-tablecloth-and-leave-the-flatware-standing trick into the chase as a throwaway gag.) Loyal fans could go on and on about their unholy love for this film, but now for the bad news: Jackie Chan's Project A 2 is terribly ill-served on the Dimension Home Video DVD release. Yes, the picture's anamorphic, and yes, it's marginally (marginally) better-looking than the original Media Asia platter that will no doubt be growing scarce on these shores. But the Dimension edition lacks the original Cantonese language track — instead offering a lone English dub with plenty of hammy Kiwi inflections. It all feels shabby and cheap, and only serves to turn one of Chan's richest efforts into another plot-choked HK cartoon. Chan-fans should hunt down the Media Asia/Mega Star Video edition and watch the film with subtitles — it's well worth the trouble. Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, English subtitles. Keep-case.
—Alexandra DuPont

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